One of the most annoying of all communication practices is the chain letter that demands that you do something—often something religious (and something I think most organized and respected religions would frown on)—and then send the letter on to an additional 10 people. [The other type of chain letter in which someone finds a great joke or article and sends it on to a mailing list of friends and relatives is a somewhat different (and only sometimes annoying) form of communication with different purposes.] If you do, you’ll be greatly rewarded; but, if you don’t, beware. Doom will soon find you. Here are just a few reasons why this form of communication needs to be labeled dysfunctional and why people who do this should reassess their motives and consider giving up this annoying practice.
1. First, it is culturally insensitive in that it assumes that the recipients of this email share (or should share) the same beliefs as the original writer. And if they don’t, they’re in big trouble. The sender makes this a moral issue—you must send this on to others or you violate crucial religious laws—exactly where these laws come from is never clear. Too ethnocentric for me.
2. Second, these promises and warnings are based on illogical Just World Thinking—the belief that good things happen to good people (that is, you’ll be rewarded if you say this prayer and pass it on to 10 others) and bad things happen to bad people (that is, you’ll be punished if you don’t say the prayer and distribute it). But, we know from just looking around—you don’t even have to read the newspapers—that lots of good people have terrible lives and lots of bad people have great lives. Too illogical for me.
3. Third, it insults the intelligence of the recipient. If the writer assumes that saying and distributing the prayer (or not) will influence what happens to the person, then the writer is taking us for idiots. Not even the most religious would assume a direct casual relationship between saying a prayer and passing it on, on the one hand, and receiving good fortune, on the other. Too insulting for me.
4. Fourth, it makes those who have some belief in these kinds of things, but might be embarrassed to send it on to others or might not know ten people, worry that they will soon experience difficulties. The expectation of these impending difficulties, of course, creates anxiety and discomfort for no reason at all. Too cruel for me.
5. Fifth, these chain letters are often motivated by the person’s fear—fear of not doing as directed and consequently suffering all sorts of harm. And so they comply and send it on to 10 others, only compounding the problem. While they may ease their own fear, they fail to take into consideration the fear, discomfort, and annoyance that these letters will generate in others (perhaps especially in those who believe). Too selfish for me.
6. Sixth, these chain letters are impolite; they attack a person’s need for positive and negative face. Chain letters attack a person’s need for positive face to be thought of positively (obviously the chain letter assumes he or she is an idiot) and the negative face needs for being autonomous (now the recipient is imposed upon and has to do something he or she would not normally have done). Too impolite for me.
7. Seventh, these letters invariably warn of dire consequences should you not do as directed, something every recipient should resent. For example, the last such letter I received just a few days ago threatened the person who ignored the letter by recalling that one person who ignored the letter had his son die, another lost a job, and another lost family—all for ignoring this intrusion and not doing as the writer demanded. Too threatening for me.
8. Eighth, these letters are time consuming and waste everyone’s time—to say nothing of bandwidth—to download, to read, to compile a list of 10 recipients, to send them on, and to read responses that are likely to follow. Too wasteful for me.
9. Ninth, they often include your email address which others on the list now have access to and can easily add you to their chain letters, compounding this invasion of privacy. Too intrusive for me.
10. Add your own.
All this is not to question the motives of the sender; often the sender is motivated by kindness and a desire to share good fortune with friends and relatives. I know personally that the last chain letter I received and referred to earlier was sent by a person with only the best of motives. So, I’m not blaming the messenger; I’m blaming the message. And we all know that meanings are not in the message, but in the person sending the message. And so, to the senders of these messages, let me ask you to consider the effects that your messages may have on others, even though you have the best of intentions in sending it. And, to the receivers of these messages, I’d say, use your delete button.